Keeping journalists in jail gives no credit to democracy
The Istanbul 27th Criminal Court is due to hold another hearing in the trial of four members of the center-left Cumhuriyet newspaper on Oct. 31.
On Oct. 30, 365 signatories - representing the 365 days since the Cumhuriyet arrests started - were publicized for the release of editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, prominent investigative reporter Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet Foundation head Akın Atalay, Emre İper and other journalists, writers and media employees currently in Turkish jails.
According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), as of Oct. 24 - when journalist Murat Aksoy was released after spending more than a year in jail - the number of imprisoned media workers under arrest in jail stood at 153.
The main accusation from the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office against Cumhuriyet is its report from January 2014, describing a gendarmerie operation near the border with Syria against Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks allegedly carrying military material to rebels in Syria. The story was actually a version of earlier reports that were later placed under legal restriction, but it did add new details.
Based on claims that those details were delivered to former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar, who now lives in Germany, by Enis Berberoğlu, a journalist-turned-politician who is a deputy for the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in jail in June 2017. He was charged with being involved in espionage activities and having links to illegal organizations.
The organization in question is the now-illegal network of U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former ally but now arch-enemy of President Tayyip Erdoğan. Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the July 2016 military coup attempt to overthrow the government.
Meanwhile, CHP Deputy Chair Yasemin Öney Cankurtaran asked the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) whether it would initiate a probe against former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, after he said on Oct. 26 that weapons were delivered to Syrian rebels with the help of Turkey.
Jassim said on a TV show that the U.S., Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey supported armed groups designated as the “moderate Syrian opposition in the West but outlawed by the Syrian government.” He admitted that many of the weapons had found their way into the hands of al-Nusra Front, the branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, but he rejected similar claims about supporting the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Journalists jailed in Turkey can be kept under arrest for such long periods thanks to the state of emergency declared by the government after the July 2016 coup attempt. But domestic and international pressure is mounting on the government to return to normal, from both political and economic circles.
The hope is that the government and the judicial system in Turkey understand that keeping journalists and politicians in jail brings no credit to them in the name of achieving a better democracy.